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Jun 7, 2014

The Tent Dress -- YEA or NAY?



Call me crazy, readers, but I came this close to buying the above pattern on eBay a few days ago.

Thankfully, I came to my senses.  Let the tent dress rest in peace.

Wait: you're no doubt wondering what the difference is between a tent dress and a trapeze dress.  As far as I can tell, not a whole lot.  I believe it was Yves Saint Laurent who brought us the trapeze dress in the late Fifties when he was at Christian Dior.

This YSL-designed trapeze dress, from 1958, is called "L'eléphant blanc" or white elephant.  Perhaps wearing a dress named after a pachyderm sounded more glamorous back then than it does today.





The trapeze was more of an A-line prototype.  The tent dress is, well, tent-ier.   And it's the tent dress that people remember.  It had quite a run, primarily in the Sixties.



Naturally, the big pattern companies jumped on the bandwagon as they always do.  There were hoity-toity versions....
 




And middle-market versions...





When the Sixties went mod, tent dresses got groovier.









If you sometimes confuse tent dresses with muumuus, you're to be forgiven: they're similar, but muumuus generally have round yokes.  (If you know more about what actually makes a muumuu a muumuu, please share.)



Having peaked by the late Sixties, the tent dress disappeared for a few decades.  But like a herpes flare-up, the tent dress always comes back.





Max Mara (in 2011)!



Victoria Beckham (in 2014)!



And let's not forget the tent dress's parallel identity as maternity wear:





The major problem with tent dresses (I'll leave the minor problems for you to identify) is that they drop straight down from your most prominent point(s), potentially suggesting you're built like a soda can.  But who made me a fashion arbiter?  If you like it, wear it!

In closing, readers, are you a fan of tent dresses?  Do you now, or did you ever, wear them?

The tent dress:  YEA or NAY?

53 comments:

  1. My first thought when I saw the title of your post was "OMG! Is Cathy pregnant again?" Just say no to tent dresses! If you like the pattern artwork, frame it for your apartment, but for goodness sake, please don't try to make one.

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  2. Replies
    1. You know, I ALSO thought Totie Fields, but a Google search revealed she mainly wore empire waist dresses. Maybe Phyllis Diller...?

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    2. I think Totie Fields was so well endowed that her empire dresses read as tent dresses. I do recall Phyllis Diller in tent dresses, as she correctly guess, they're sort of inherently hilarious.

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  3. I like them, but the bodice sleeve area has to fit perfectly. And shoulders need to be fairly delicate. I think Cathy's shoulders might be an issue.

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  4. If I had the legs for it, I would wear a short one. I think they're cute.

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    1. ... Until a gust of wind blows

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  5. Think they are great.

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  6. I have the Simplicity 7310 which I made in aubergine taffeta for the underdress and an aubergine and gold spiderweb organza (at least that's what the fabric store called it). It turned out kind of cute.
    If you ever change your mind about making it, let me know - I'm sure we can come up with a way to lend it to you!
    Angela W.

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  7. Oh definitely yes, with the right fabric and style though, or you can end up looking overtly vintage or preggers. I made up a vintage pattern last year not long after I started blogging, in the most amazing fabric (slurge) which is now a pretty special dress for me.

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  8. I have a tent dress that I bought (yes, bought) in, maybe 1992? I still wear it a couple of times every summer. I can't quit it.

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  9. Yea most definitely! My favorite Oops was a self-drafted halter tent dress. It wasn't meant to be one, that's why it was an Oops. But I loved the result & it's about the only thing I've made that earned me multiple compliments :-)

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  10. Not for me personally, but on the right frame (probably petite), with the right fabric...dig out.

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  11. As Peggy sager says...dolly Parton in a muumuu...the visual is bad.

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  12. I am not familiar with this dress style. I do wear the modern muumuu version. Short, confortable, fit loosely at the waist. I have several of them in Hawaii. One that I particularly like is made of soft hawaiianl cotton blend, it is fit on the top, sleeveless, huge my curves, and has a flounce higher on the back and short on the front. Most women wear them as a dress up, house dress, and during the Merry Monarch festival (Hilo, Big Island). The muumuus for the festival are elaborate, expensive to make, the materials are expensive, one of the kind, couture quality made by local sewer for the hula dancers. The dancers are mostly big. Hawaiian women are proud of their culture and their muumuus.

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  13. Aloha from Josie. Thanks for sharing

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  14. Having lived through the 60s, I saw many that looked great and some that would have made good rag bags. Fit and style needs to be right or all bets are off. Muumuus I generally like. Key on them is that they are gathered (usually generously) from the top. The oldest styles are yoke-free; in Hawai'i now if one sees a yoke it's most often a narrow v-shape with a fairly wide opening in front. Old or new, quite often have a wide ruffle at bottom, sometimes deep. Usually sleeved and sleeves are copiously gathered as a rule. I like them; most of the women I see in them look pretty good regardless of body shape....much variation these days in the fabric but leaner gals simple tend toward softer fabrics/less gathering/no yoke at all. Much nicer than a tent, imho, and surely better for a wide variety of body styles.

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  15. 7208 My mom made me a few of these. Also Twiggy had one in the pattern books I made in class.

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  16. Yes, Yes, Yes! Love the 7310 - but you definitely gotta have the legs :)

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  17. I think my mom made Mccalls 8402-

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  18. I heart the tent dress. I still own some Metalicus peices that are essentially tent dresses and they are in regular rotation through my work wardrobe.
    Accessorised correctly and, dare I say it, on somone who is not built like a soda can, I think they can look quite sophisticated without being tarty.

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    Replies
    1. Hm. I have been referring to myself as box-shaped, but soda can? Not sure. Not happy with the shape I'm describing, but remodeling goes so slowly, and I want to sew something nice...

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  19. I like the sheer white one at the top with the beaded collar. I think sheer fabric is the way to go with this style of dress. I'd wear it, for sure!

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  20. Ah, no. But then I'm short and curvy. I have a waist, and I have to show where it is, or I look square. And not in a 1960s opposite of groovy kind of way. More like...actually square.

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  21. I wouldn't mind a tent-dress. I like them but the fabric has to be light and flowy! I would never waist money on buying a pattern thou. It is easy to make one.

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  22. I like the white and silver ones at the top, I think they need to be well fitted in the shoulders and bust though and with more of the extra fabric at the back to be elegant. The one that Victoria Beckham is wearing is truly appalling and should never have got off the shop floor.

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  23. On the right body, right fit and fabric I think they look lovely.

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  24. I like 'em! I would make one, if I had a friend that wanted one. They seem very easy to pattern and sew.

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  25. I have one very similar to the Gres 1751 above (in sheer black crepe) that I wear occasionally. But I am very small across the shoulders and bust so the overall silhouette is narrow. I wouldn't wear it if I were even a tiny bit bigger.

    So a conditional yea.

    Spud.

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  26. Love them, so floaty so airy! Great over leggings too.

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  27. My Mum made Vogue 2407 for my 6th Form ball in high school, at my request it was in a cerise satin with a chiffon over dress. I loved it and hated it at the same time....Aaah the memories

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  28. I'll say nay, EXCEPT I do like the Lanvin pattern version and the idea of a fitted sheath beneath a sheer tent. That could be fun to wear (and I think I have fabric for both layers.)

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  29. I wore them and loved them, but of course I was 95 pounds then. I wouldn't think of wearing one now.

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  30. I feel like most Eileen Fisher RTW is tent dresses of lovely knits and silks, and they're really wearable and flattering. The key is the drape.

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  31. If you're a gamine, the tent dress still looks wonderful. If you're a Kimye, run for the exits.

    Note how subtle the fitting is on the YSL. The 3/4 view highlights how the garment is so beautifully fitted into the trapeze.

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  32. Simplicity 7203.... I made that in junior high in Orange and purple polka dot fabric. Loved it so much I made another one in a beautiful blue, green and turquoise paisley. My 9th grade school picture picture stands as a witness. along with my flipped hair style, I was quite stylish.

    Course, that was before I "blossomed". (Yeah, I was a late bloomer. As my mother says, "one morning you walked in and "there you were""!)

    If I dared to wear a tent dress now, I would most definitely look like an elephant... or pumpkin if it was the Orange dress. Lol

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    1. I think I also made Simplicity 7203 in 6th grade - even wore it for picture day. Wasn't that flattering then and I certainly would never wear a tent dress now.

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  33. I made a couple like the Simplicity 7203 with the pleat. Of course I was in late grade school and like Chris above, weighed 95 pounds. Why would I subject my self to that now?

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  34. Like Chris I sewed and wore a few of them in the late 60s when I was young and very slim but I wouldn't wear them now. They look best made in flowy fabrics on model-type figures.

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  35. I tend to prefer a fitted silhouette but on the right woman this is an exception. If she's slender and has the long arms and legs needed to balance the center of mass, it's great. Sleeveless, of course.

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  36. I find it so ironic (for myself) that tent dresses were popular back when I was young and thin and could wear anything. Now that I am neither young nor thin, more fitted styles are popular. In any case, the tent or trapeze dress was never a good idea. Claudia W

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  37. Well, geez, YEA, of course! Not understanding the anti tent/trapeze/a-line sentiments. Certainly, the lines of the pattern can be designed to compliment one's body type. For example, variations on the neckline, bodice type, armhole, length, etc., are just about infinite. But, the fabric! How better to display the qualities of a chosen textile than to cut and construct in such a way as to see the pattern, texture, and drape, while drawing notice to the wearer's decolettage, arms and perhaps most of all the legs. I say yes and how refreshing!

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  38. Trapeze yes, tent if you're confident and daring.

    Had a friend buy a trapeze in the 90s, and upon examination it was fitted toward the apex or bust line, THEN flared out. So fitted on high and flaring from the most prominent point (great for smaller busted types).

    The tent flares from the pits! UGH! Way too much fabric (save for something sheer, and on Megan from Mad Men - that episode where she sang in that baby doll dress!!!), and typically an overwhelming sensation, leaving the general public if "axe handle" is anywhere near wide enough to describe what they cannot see.

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  39. Tent/trapeze dress a qualified Yes. This style seems to work best as a really dressy dress (7310) in a floaty, glamorous fabric or as a very casual sleeveless dress(7597)--something to wear around the house or at the beach. There is Kenzo pattern for a really cute sun dress up on eBay right now. That's the way I'd go if I were to make one. (VB's dress, while not a true tent dress does underline the problem with a lot of fabric volume--the wind can catch it an turn it into a sail.) Might be a reason why the tent/trapeze look didn't last very long. )

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  40. My friend's high school graduation dress was Simplicity 7310--white lace over a bright pink satin underdress. Mine was closer to 7584--peachish sheer chiffon over a swirly peach/white crepe print. You can probably guess pretty close the year we graduated! Made and wore a couple more tent dresses throughout my college years.

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  41. Great for apple shapes, covers a multitude of sins, but you have to have great legs for it to work. personally I've never worn one even though I am shaped like a barrel, with reasonable legs , too dangerous, a mere breath of wind darling and rather too much would be revealed.

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  42. In Vivian Colle's self-draft book from 1967 she says the trapeze dress will always be her favourite, wheather in style, or not. I adore them, and did before too. But they must fit well in neck, upper bust, armhole/sleeve areas, and need a length that suits you. And appropriate fabric. Great with tights and/or toned legs. I prefer when you give a nod to the Empire style. Made 2 a few years ago, and planning more soon. one of my favourites!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Cathie, in Quebec.(I'm Plus and Hourglass).

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  43. Did I wear tent dresses? No, but you are reminding me of the saucer shaped smocks I did make and wear in the 70's *cringe*
    The tent or trapeze suits a certain body type, willowy with delicate shoulders and good legs. All the components have to be there ;)

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  44. I really like trapeze dresses! The Vogue Grès pattern is super cool! I know they're not super flattering, but I think it's interesting and fun to wear lots of volume, particularly in a high-impact print. But styling and hem length have to be reallllllly carefull selected or they can look like nighties!

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  45. I sew the Voguedress and wore it to a wedding in 1992, it was transparent blue with white dots, I had a tight blue dress under and I felt soo pretty... Don't think I would sew (or wear) one today though...

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  46. I wore a green tent dress on just about the best day of my life up to that point in late 1966. I was a skinny 16-year-old redhead. Still love the look, but they don't love me any more....

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  47. Is that a Dawn Doll?!

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